Place at the End of the Road

Places at the End of the Road

Over the years, I have come across many “places at the end of the road”. I discover them over and over again in my travels and find they all have a combination of authenticity and peculiarity that makes them very special places. I have concluded that places at the end of a road attract those who are searching for something or running from something, who reach the end of the road Places at the End of the Roadand stop for awhile. Over time, they leave their imprint and it is an imprint unlike anything in the homogenized world outside because it is made of the best and the worst of each of them. Sometimes they stay for just a short time and become the local legends. Sometimes they stay forever and become the community.

My first experience was Key West in the 1980’s, before it became just another expensive resort community of TGIF’s and T-shirt shops. In the 1980’s, Key West was still the kind of place where you came for a day and stayed for a year. It was filled with characters and charlatans, artists and musicians and every day was an adventure of discovery. By the 1980’s the degeneration had already begun as the highway and bridges down from Miami were improved, but enough of the old Key West remained to make it feel authentic. This was the Key West of Jimmy Buffet and Ernest Hemingway. I remember a bar a little off the beaten track that sold sliders, swimming in fried onions at 2 for $1, and they poured you a free draft while you were waiting for your order. I remember Sunday afternoon Tea Dances where the pool was filled with hundreds of beach balls.  I remember meeting artists on the beach who lived day-to-day, just content to be there in paradise.   I remember Cuban coffee on the bench on Duval Street and roosters running wild in the downtown streets. A place where the affluent and the locals lived together, drank together and partied together.

My last visit to Key West was over 10 years ago now. The place I remembered was gone, destroyed by the cruise ships, the cancer of the travel industry.

 Monster cruise liners destroying historic Venice

Monster cruise liners destroying historic Venice

Cruise ships consume the very world they seek to bring people into. A cruise ship docks for a few hours and thousands of people descend into a city. No one has the time to get to know a place in just a few hours, no time to discover the unique shops, bars, restaurants or individuals. They descend in their masses and they are looking for three things- a meal, a tour and a souvenir. The cruise companies cut their own deals for tours, sell them on the ship, so the little local operators are frozen out. No one knows the local restaurant brands, so they are pushed out and replaced by the big-box chain brands who can pay the new, higher rents. And the unique little local shops are supplanted by endless T-shirt shops selling variations on the same drech – no art, no creativity, no character. So it was that on my first visit to El Castillo, I was reminded of Key West. There are no chains here. This is an authentic community at the end of the road.

El Castillo is still very much a community-with more and more gringos arriving each year, but so far, the kind of gringos who seek to become part of the community as it is rather than make it over into someplace like everywhere else. And El Castillo has its share of characters and charlatans-people seeking or running from and they give the community its authenticity. There is talk of putting a bridge in across the Rio Cano Negro to connect La Fortuna to MonteVerde. If they do, the new highway will run right through the village along the southern shore of Lake Arenal. There is talk, but there has been talk like this, I am told, for the last 20 years. If they ever do, this will no longer be a place at the end of the road, no longer a repository for the authentic. But for now, its a remarkable and rare place.

Over the years, I have come across many “places at the end of the road”. I discover them over and over again in my travels and find they all have a combination of authenticity and peculiarity that makes them very special places. I have concluded that places at the end of a road attract those who are searching for something or running from something, who reach the end of the road and stop for awhile. Over time, they leave their imprint and it is an imprint unlike anything in the homogengized world outside because it is made of the best and the worst of each of them. Sometimes they stay for just a short time and become the local legends. Sometimes they stay forever and become the community. My first experience was Key West in the 1980’s, before it became just another expensive resort community of TGIF’s and T-shirt shops. In the 1980’s. Key West was the kind of place where you came for a day and stayed for a year. It was filled with characters and charlatans, artists and musicians and every day was an adventure of discovery. By the 1980’s the degeneration had already begun as the highway and bridges down from Miami were improved, but enough of the old Key West remained to make it feel authentic. This was the Key West of Jimmy Buffet and Ernest Hemingway. I remember a bar a little off the beaten track that sold sliders, swimming in fried onions at 2 for $1, and they poured you a free draft while you were waiting for your order. I remember Sunday afternoon Tea Dances where the pool was filled with hundreds of beach balls.  I remember meeting artists on the beach who lived day-to-day, just content to be there in paradise.   I remember Cuban coffee on the bench on Duval Street and roosters running wild in the downtown streets. A place where the affluent and the locals lived together, drank together and partied together. My last visit to Key West was over 10 years ago now. The place I remembered was gone, destroyed by the cruise ships, the cancer of the travel industry. Cruise ships consme the very world they seek to bring people into. A cruise ship docks for a few hours and thousands of people descend into a city. No one has the time to get to know a place in just a few hours, no time to discover the unique shops, bars, restaurants or individuals. They descend in their masses and they are looking for three things- a meal, a tour and a souvenir. The cruise companies cut their own deals for tours, sell them on the ship, so the little local operators are frozen out. No one knows the local restaurant brands, so they are pushed out and replaced by the big-box chain brands who can pay the new, higher rents. And the unique little local shops are supplanted by endless T-shirt shops selling variations on the same drech-no art, no creativity, no character. So it was that on my first visit to El Castillo, I was reminded of Key West. There are no chains here. This is an authentic community at the end of the road. It is still very much a community-with more and more gringoes arriving each year, but so far, the kind of gringoes who seek to become part of the community as it is rather than make it over into someplace like everywhere else. And El Castillo has its share of characters and charlatans-people seeking or running from and they give the community its authenticity. There is talk of putting a bridge in across the Rio Cano Negro to connect La Fortuna to MonteVerde. If they do, the new highway will run right through the village along the southern shore of Lake Arenal. There is talk, but there has been talk like this, I am told, for the last 20 years. If they ever do, this will no longer be a place at the end of the road, no longer a repository for the authentics. But for now, its a remarkable and rare place.

Over the years, I have come across many “places at the end of the road”. I discover them over and over again in my travels and find they all have a combination of authenticity and peculiarity that makes them very special places. I have concluded that places at the end of a road attract those who are searching for something or running from something, who reach the end of the road and stop for awhile. Over time, they leave their imprint and it is an imprint unlike anything in the homogengized world outside because it is made of the best and the worst of each of them. Sometimes they stay for just a short time and become the local legends. Sometimes they stay forever and become the community. My first experience was Key West in the 1980’s, before it became just another expensive resort community of TGIF’s and T-shirt shops. In the 1980’s. Key West was the kind of place where you came for a day and stayed for a year. It was filled with characters and charlatans, artists and musicians and every day was an adventure of discovery. By the 1980’s the degeneration had already begun as the highway and bridges down from Miami were improved, but enough of the old Key West remained to make it feel authentic. This was the Key West of Jimmy Buffet and Ernest Hemingway. I remember a bar a little off the beaten track that sold sliders, swimming in fried onions at 2 for $1, and they poured you a free draft while you were waiting for your order. I remember Sunday afternoon Tea Dances where the pool was filled with hundreds of beach balls.  I remember meeting artists on the beach who lived day-to-day, just content to be there in paradise.   I remember Cuban coffee on the bench on Duval Street and roosters running wild in the downtown streets. A place where the affluent and the locals lived together, drank together and partied together. My last visit to Key West was over 10 years ago now. The place I remembered was gone, destroyed by the cruise ships, the cancer of the travel industry. Cruise ships consme the very world they seek to bring people into. A cruise ship docks for a few hours and thousands of people descend into a city. No one has the time to get to know a place in just a few hours, no time to discover the unique shops, bars, restaurants or individuals. They descend in their masses and they are looking for three things- a meal, a tour and a souvenir. The cruise companies cut their own deals for tours, sell them on the ship, so the little local operators are frozen out. No one knows the local restaurant brands, so they are pushed out and replaced by the big-box chain brands who can pay the new, higher rents. And the unique little local shops are supplanted by endless T-shirt shops selling variations on the same drech-no art, no creativity, no character. So it was that on my first visit to El Castillo, I was reminded of Key West. There are no chains here. This is an authentic community at the end of the road. It is still very much a community-with more and more gringoes arriving each year, but so far, the kind of gringoes who seek to become part of the community as it is rather than make it over into someplace like everywhere else. And El Castillo has its share of characters and charlatans-people seeking or running from and they give the community its authenticity. There is talk of putting a bridge in across the Rio Cano Negro to connect La Fortuna to MonteVerde. If they do, the new highway will run right through the village along the southern shore of Lake Arenal. There is talk, but there has been talk like this, I am told, for the last 20 years. If they ever do, this will no longer be a place at the end of the road, no longer a repository for the authentics. But for now, its a remarkable and rare place.

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